An Urban Land Institute Washington Technical Assistance Panel: Harvesting the Value of Metrorail in Loudoun County, Virginia
Loudoun County’s regional location and proximity to Dulles Airport create unique economic opportunities. Map source: Loudoun County. Changes are coming to Loudoun County, an outer suburb of the Metropolitan Washington Region located 25 miles west of Washington, D.C. Loudoun County is home to the region’s main international airport, Washington Dulles International Airport. Metrorail, the rail system managed by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, is extending its new Silver Line to connect the airport to the rest of the system, which will also include the construction of two other stations within Loudoun County. This extension is causing a shift in the development potential, within the Region, and Loudoun County is poised to capitalize on this opportunity.
Historically, pastures and farmland have characterized Loudoun County. The opening of Dulles Airport in 1962 catalyzed suburban development patterns throughout the eastern portion of the 520-square-mile county, while the western portion of Loudoun County has remained largely rural.
Loudoun County has been ambitiously analyzing its planning efforts to ensure that it maximizes the opportunities associated with Metrorail’s arrival when the remaining stations on the Silver Line open in 2018.
The TAP Study Area includes two Metrorail stations and the surrounding properties. Map source: Loudoun County. To determine whether the county’s planning has met the goal of maximizing potential opportunities, Loudoun County requested the assistance of an Urban Land Institute (ULI) Washington Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) to provide expert, multidisciplinary advice on land use and real estate issues relating to the land-use planning around two future Silver Line stations. TAPs are fast-paced brainstorming sessions with a group of 9 to 12 outside experts who use their extensive professional experience to respond to a set of specific questions posed by a local government sponsor. The panelists, who are ULI members, work over a concentrated timeline to evaluate and provide market-based feedback on local development or land use challenges. The multidisciplinary nature of the panel and the quick-response nature of the TAP process allow for new, creative ideas to be explored and vetted with a group of experts who bring an unbiased perspective to the issue.
The Loudoun County TAP took place over 1.5 days and primarily focused on the two planned Silver Line stations: Route 606 Station and Route 772 Station. The TAP’s Study Area encompassed 641 parcels and 14,328 acres, including the Dulles Airport property, which is the largest in the area.
Focus on the Small to Think Big
Loudoun County is at a key junction in time as its historic agricultural roots come face-to-face with state-of the-the-art infrastructure investment. Taken together, the TAPs recommendations encourage close and careful study of the final two station areas along the Silver Line to determine the particular opportunities for each one. The TAP recommended developing a distinct and detailed character for each station through visioning, small-area planning, branding and marketing, and place-based creation.
Small-area plans outline transportation, public space, and development patterns to create a desirable place. Map source: Arlington County.
The TAP suggested that one of the future “big movers” for the region will be the transformation of car-dependent suburban areas into walkable urban places. Walkable urban places have proven to be economically powerful. Arlington County, Virginia, offers one of the best models of an urbanized suburban community in the country and also enjoys a substantial price premium of real estate prices over car-dependent suburban locations. Although walkable urban places make up only 11 percent of Arlington County’s land area, they generate 55 percent of its tax revenue. For a variety of reasons, the TAP recommended that Loudoun County focus on building walkable urban places near Route 772 Station prior to Route 606 Station.
A complete map of the existing and proposed transportation network — such as this mockup, which was drawn during the TAP — helps identify gaps. Map source: ULI Washington. In addition, the TAP recommended that giving the stations meaningful names would help create a place-based identity in the areas surrounding the stations. The TAP recommended that the land around the Route 606 station could serve as a convention space because Dulles Airport attracts both national and international audiences. This reason, along with Loudoun County-imposed noise and height constraints surrounding the Route 606 station, limit development options. The TAP recommended that the Route 606 station’s name be renamed the Dulles Center International station to reflect the proposed land-use. The TAP also recommended renaming the Route 772 station as the Blue Ridge Gateway station to highlight its role as a springboard to the agrarian experience of Loudoun County. The Route 772 station includes access to more than 35 wineries, historic properties, quaint bed and breakfasts, and rural landscapes.
Through strategic visioning, Loudoun County can help communicate expected changes to residents and manage expectations for both public- and private-sector investment. Accomplishing this plan will require zoning flexibility and consideration of the market uses that are most suited for the station areas over both the short and long term. This process will need to take into account that new market realities within the Metropolitan Washington Area include the demand for walkable urban places that are mixed-use development clusters. This strategy will also help result in the means to move people with the Silver Line extension and generate new tax revenue.
The TAP is confident that Loudoun County can maximize future development opportunities and create a lively and dynamic destination that maintains the agricultural and suburban assets that residents of Loudoun County currently enjoy.
To learn more about the Loudoun County TAP and the TAP program in general, visit http://washington.uli.org/uli-in-action/technical-assistance-panels/.
To read the Panel’s report in full, click here.